I think we should have found a bigger AFC logo.
What’s better than a condensed NFL off-season that has all the fun of free agency packed into about three days, while training camps are starting at the same time? I’d say that it’s making premature predictions about how, what is likely to be the most unpredictable NFL season in years, will unfold. I’ve called dibs on the AFC, while Schwartz will be around later with the NFC. We’ll bring you something special for the Super Bowl prediction. However, since enough important free agents have signed for us to get a feel for who we like, it is time to start making our doomed prognostications. (Doomed Prognostications sounds like a garage band name.)
Note: The AFC South plays the AFC North and NFC South this season
1.) Colts (11-5)
No matter what, if you’ve got 18 on your team, you’re going to win games. In addition to that, weapons like Austin Collie and Dallas Clark will be returning from injury, Joseph Addai hopefully won’t miss a nice chunk of the regular season, as well.
Strength: Weapons- The Colts, when healthy, have as much playmaking potential as any team in the league with Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, and Dallas Clark for Peyton to throw to. All the running game has to do is be respectable and this offense is instantly one of, if not the, best in the league. It’s never been a secret that it’s hard to outscore the Colts.
Weakness: Run D- This never seems to get addressed. Yesterday they added Jamaal Anderson, former top-10 selection of the Atlanta Falcons, who was rated as the 6th DE against the run last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He has been labeled as a “bust” for his 4.5 sacks over 4 years, but that’s why they have Mathis and Freeney. Drake Nevis, the Defensive Tackle they drafted in the third round from LSU, has been brought in to try and disrupt the ball-carriers of the AFC South in the backfield. Retaining Antonio “Mookie” Johnson was key as well, as he was their most effective Defensive Tackle last season. Linebackers Gary Brackett, Pat Angerer, and Kavell Conner have talent as a corps, but have a ways to go before they are a feared unit.
Key Losses: Clint Session, LB (Jacksonville), Charlie Johnson, OT (Minnesota), Dan Muir, DT (St. Louis), Kelvin Hayden, CB (Free Agent)
Key Additions: Jamaal Anderson, DE (Atlanta)
2.) Texans (10-6)
Despite the fact that Arian Foster ran rampant over the NFL last season, Gary Kubiak’s job was in jeopardy at the end of it, simply because the Texans failed to meet the lofty expectations the media set for them. I bought into the hype last year too, and think that this year they have an even better chance of realizing it.
Strength: Offensive Playmakers- Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson have become a lethal hookup by any NFL Standard, and Arian Foster turned into a defense-terrorizing monster last season. Even Jacoby Jones can be listed as an offensive playmaker, simply because of his ability to keep defenses honest, creating better opportunities for Foster to run.
Weakness: Transition- Switching to a completely different defense in a lockout-shortened off-season is not going to the Texans any favors early in the season. If this defense performs like it has the potential to, they will win double digit games this season, especially given the additions of Jonathan Joseph and Danieal Manning to the pass-defense, which was easily their biggest weakness last season.
Key Losses: Vonta Leach, FB (Baltimore)
Key Additions: Jonathan Joseph, CB (Cincinnati), Danieal Manning (Chicago)
3.) Jaguars (6-10)
Not buying the hype. Defense, though needing to be addressed, was not what kept the Jags from being real contenders last year. They still don’t have enough talent on the offensive side of the ball to support Maurice Jones-Drew. Mike Sims-Walker was hit or miss at best, and they didn’t even bring him back. Mike Thomas had a good season last year, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to have a ton of help on the other side. Marcedes Lewis will have a lot of catches this season.
Strength: Running Game- Maurice Jones-Drew doesn’t need to be explained. The Jaguars run the ball really well, and he’s the reason they do.
Weakness: Passing Game- David Garrard has always been a decent quarterback, with nobody of great merit to throw the ball to. Nothing much has changed. They drafted Blaine Gabbert, who will only make the situation more tenuous, because Garrard screw-ups will now be followed by chants for Blaine.
Key Losses: Mike Sims-Walker, WR (St. Louis), Justin Durant, LB (Detroit)
Key Additions: Dajuan Landry, S (Baltimore), Paul Posluszny, LB (Buffalo), Clint Session, LB (Indianapolis)
4.) Titans (5-11)
They just really don’t have anything going for them. Their biggest off-season addition was Matt Hasselbeck, who, over the last two seasons has thrown far more interceptions than he has touchdowns. Kenny Britt might not even be allowed in the country by the time the season starts, if he keeps this pace, and they lost two of the strongest members of their defense in Stephen Tulloch and Jason Babin. Oh yeah, their best player is currently planning to sit out for the long-haul as well. Not a good sign.
Key Losses: Stephen Tulloch, LB (Detroit), Jason Babin, DE (Philadelphia), Vince Young, QB (Philadelphia)
Key Additions: Matt Hasselbeck, QB (Seattle), Daniel Graham, TE (Denver)
Note: The AFC West plays the NFC North and AFC East this season
1.) Chiefs (10-6)
The Chiefs kept all the key pieces to the puzzle that won the AFC West last year in place. Jamaal Charles emerged as one of the biggest big-play threats in the NFL, while being complimented nicely by Thomas Jones. They have added pieces at WR, Steve Breaston and rookie Jonathan Baldwin to help increase Matt Cassel’s options. What was one of the most talented young defenses in the NFL, will have another year of experience under its belt, ready to shut down the attacks of the AFC West.
Strength: Ground Game- Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones, and a quality O-Line are a recipe for disaster for any AFC West team that thinks the Chiefs’ run last year was a fluke.
Weakness: Depth in Passing Game- We will see how Breaston and Baldwin can help Cassel in the passing game, but right now this is still something that needs to be seen to be believed in KC.
Key Losses: Mike Vrabal, LB (Retirement), Brian Waters, G (Free Agent)
Key Additions: Steve Breaston, WR (Arizona), Kelley Gregg, DT (Baltimore), Brandon Siler, LB (San Diego)
2.) Chargers (8-8)
I’m never really into the Chargers kool-aid, I’m never really into the Norv Turner kool-aid, and I just don’t see how they got better this off-season. Honestly, I think I’m being generous at 8-8. If nothing else, their signing of Takeo Spikes should guarantee that they won’t make the playoffs, as he is cursed.
Strength: Passing Game- Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, etc. They throw the ball about as well as any team in the league, and even missing the playoffs last year they had one of the strongest offenses in the NFL.
Weakness: Running Game- Ryan Mathews couldn’t stay healthy (or play well, for that matter) last year, Mike Tolbert isn’t exactly a game changer, and they lost Darren Sproles in free agency.
Key Losses: Brandon Siler, LB (Kansas City), Kevin Burnett, LB (Miami), Malcolm Floyd, WR (Free Agency), Darren Sproles, RB (New Orleans)
Key Additions: Takeo Spikes, LB (San Francisco)
3.) Denver Broncos (7-9)
At least the Broncos have made an effort to look like they care about the fact that they finished with the 2nd-worst record in the NFL last season. Though, I will always find it amusing that the team that finished with the 2nd-worst record, signed the guy who coached the team with the worst record to be their head coach. I know it’s deeper than that, but the issue itself is pretty entertaining at face value. Getting Elvis Dumervil back is going to be huge for the Broncos. Adding Von Miller to the mix is going to make their pass-rush something to watch. There’s no way their D is as bad as it was last year. Willis McGahee should help Knowshon Moreno to spice up the running game. And, as long as the front office hangs on to Kyle Orton for this season, there’s a chance that the passing game can remain potent as well.
Strength: Pass Defense- Elvis Dumervil was one of the most feared pass-rushers in the NFL before he tore a pectoral muscle last season. If he is 100% (and we haven’t heard anything to indicate that he isn’t) he immediately strengthens the entire defense. Von Miller should help immediately, as well. Whoever draws double-teams creates opportunities for the other. And don’t forget Champ Bailey.
Key Losses: Daniel Graham, TE (Tennessee), Jabar Gaffney, WR (Washington)
Key Additions: Brodrick Bunkley, DT (Philadelphia), Willis McGahee, RB (Baltimore)
4.) Oakland Raiders (6-10)
They lost their best player, and potentially their 2nd-best player…they signed Trent Edwards.
Key Losses: Nnamdi Asomugah, CB (Philadelphia), Zach Miller, TE (Free Agency)
Key Additions: Trent Edwards, QB (Jacksonville)…because I had to put somebody in here.
Note: The AFC East plays the NFC East and AFC West this year.
1.) New England Patriots (12-4)
We have been given no reason to believe that Bill Bellichick is taking last year’s one-and-done playoff run lightly. This is a Patriots team that has not won a playoff game since my Junior year of high school (I’m about to be a Junior in college.) However, if nothing else, the Ochocinco and Haynesworth adds show that they are willing to make a splash (if Randy Moss a few years ago didn’t say it, what does?) They should be able to do a lot of the same things they were able to do on offense last year, if not more. They’ve shown they can run the ball with anybody, and they’ve got more than enough weapons to throw to. On defense, I’d like to see who’s going to run on a newly minted 4-3 defense that features Albert Haynesworth and Vince Wilfork in the middle, and Jerod Meyo at MLB just in case you make it to the linebackers.
Strength: Can’t Pick Just One- Passing Offense and Coaching- You’ve got one of the two best QBs in the NFL and one of the best coaches of all time. You’re going to win games with that every time.
Weakness: Defensive End depth- They don’t really have anybody at DE besides Gerard Warren.
Key Losses: Ty Warren, DE (Free Agency)
Key Additions: Chad Ochocinco, WR (Cincinnati), Albert Haynesworth, DT (Washington)
2.) New York Jets (11-5)
They didn’t get any worse, they just didn’t get Nnamdi. The biggest off-season addition for the Jets is adding Tom Moore to the coaching staff. This is the guy who developed Peyton Manning into the machine he is today. If there’s anybody who can make Mark Sanchez worth his weight in gold, it’s Tom Moore. Adding Plax is a nice touch for them as well, but I believe this team won’t miss a beat. It kills me to say it, because I hate them, but they’re legitimate.
Strength: Defense/Mind-Games- They play great defense, they’ll have Revis and Cromartie back at it again, and they do a better job than just about anybody, of getting into the opposition’s head. You can go ahead and credit Rex Ryan for that.
Weakness: Quarterback- Mark Sanchez is far too inconsistent to be considered a reliable option at QB. He has been provided great targets to throw to, but he often misses and causes turnovers. He can be good, but he needs to be a lot better.
Key Losses: Brad Smith, WR (Buffalo), Braylon Edwards, WR (Free Agency),
Key Additions: Plaxico Burress, WR (Prison), Chris Bryan, P (Australia)
3.) Buffalo Bills (9-7)
The Bills lost a lot of close games last season, and towards the end of the year, they really started to gel as a unit, and looked like they could be a handful if they made the right off-season moves. Well, I really believe they’ve made the right off-season moves. They weren’t able to hang on to Paul Posluszny, but they have made some key additions, including drafting Marcell Dareus, that I believe make them a real candidate to finish over .500 this season.
Strength: Coaching- I love Chan Gailey and I think his creativity and innovation are going to lead to a lot of production from the Bills’ offense this season. They’ve got Brad Smith listed as a QB, Stevie Johnson emerged as a playmaker, Tyler Thigpen can pass and catch. This team can do a lot of stuff, and it’s not all gimmicky.
Weakness: Underdeveloped- The team is probably still a year away from making real noise, but I think that they’re going to be a lot better than people are giving them credit for this season.
Key Losses: Paul Posluszny, LB (Jacksonville)
Key Additions: Brad Smith, QB (New York Jets), Tyler Thigpen, QB (Miami), Nick Barnett, LB (Green Bay)
4.) Miami Dolphins (6-10)
I drank the Miami kool-aid last season, and I’m not falling for it again. Chad Henne is not an NFL starting quarterback, but they’re going to try and make the world believe he is. Reggie Bush was a nice touch, but they’re going to need somebody who can carry the bulk of the load, and I don’t know who that’s going to be. There’s not really anybody out there who looks like they can be the horse for the fish. The defense didn’t really get any better, either. I think we may see some heads roll in Miami this year.
Strengths: Weapons- Reggie Bush and Brandon Marhsall do create weapons for Chad Henne, I just strongly doubt his ability to utilize them properly.
Weaknesses: Defense- I haven’t seen anything that leads me to believe that the Dolphins can stop anybody from doing anything.
Key Additions: Reggie Bush, RB (New Orleans), Marc Colombo, T (Cowboys)
Key Losses: Ronnie Brown, RB (Free Agency…still could re-sign, but I don’t think he’ll help either way), Ricky Williams, RB (See: Ronnie Brown)
Note: The AFC North plays the AFC South and NFC West this season
1.) Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
The Ravens like to pound the rock. The Ravens added Vonta Leach. There are few players in the league who better help to pound the rock than Vonta. A strong defense stays largely in-tact, and the Ravens had a strong draft, I think they got better than Pittsburgh this off-season. They cut some guys who didn’t really serve a purpose anymore in Derrick Mason and Todd Heap (he was hurt too much,) and a guy like Kelley Gregg who was pretty much pushed out by Haloti Ngata. I think they will capitalize on the moves they made this off-season and take the lead in the AFC North.
Strength: Physicality- They can run, they can beat you up when you try to run, and you have to respect the run, because they can throw. Dangerous combination. Vonta Leach was a perfect fit for them, an immediate upgrade over an already quality LeRon McClain.
Weakness: Passing Game- Joe Flacco just needs to step up a little bit more. They can pass well enough for teams to respect the run, but nobody’s altering their game-plan because they’re worried about what Joe Flacco is going to do to them. If they can get to that stage, they will be near-impossible to stop.
Key Losses: Derrick Mason, WR (Free Agency), Todd Heap, TE (Arizona), Kelley Gregg, DT (Kansas City)
Key Additions: Vonta Leach, FB (Houston)
2.) Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
This may not be completely rational, but I don’t get a good vibe from the Steelers right now. They lost Max Starks and Flozell Adams, who helped them do what they were best at doing. James Harrison, Rashard Mendenhall, Hines Ward are all doing things negatively off the field. Ben Roethlisberger settled down. I mean, what can we believe in anymore?! Add all of this to the Super Bowl Loser’s Curse, and this seems like a recipe for disaster. I think I’m being nice at 10-6.
Strengths: They can still kick your butt. They are the most intimidating team in the NFL defensively, and anybody who disagrees just really doesn’t watch football.
Weakness: Secondary- They are not very effective against the pass, and nobody highlighted that more than Aaron Rodgers in the Super Bowl. Obviously, it’s hard to look good against Aaron Rodgers, but the Steelers secondary struggled to look good at all last season.
Key Losses: Max Starks, T (Free Agency), Flozell Adams, T (Free Agency)
Key Additions: Nobody yet.
3.) Cleveland Browns (9-7)
The Browns haven’t made a lot of noise in free agency, but I don’t really know if they had to. They could stand to surround Colt with another target to really solidfy the passing attack, but I think the Browns should be happy with the way their roster looks right now. The only significant loss they had this off-season was Eric Wright heading to Detroit, and that’s not earth shattering. This is a team that was one of two losses for the New England Patriots in the regular season, and a team that beat the defending Super Bowl Champions. Those were both in games where Colt McCoy started, but did not play especially well. I think with the experience he gained last year, he will help be a contributing factor to increased Browns success this year.
Strengths: Running Game- Peyton Hillis destroyed people last year, and unless the Madden Curse stops him, I don’t think anybody else will. That offensive line is no joke, and he will keep running behind them, making Josh McDaniels look like a buffoon every step of the way.
Weakness: Defense- They still need to solidify a couple different areas on defense, and one of them was the defensive line. Phil Taylor was a nice addition through the draft, but I don’t think we’re going to see an immediate impact from the minimal additions made by the Browns this off-season. They may be able to score a lot, but I don’t think that defense is going to help them very much. Their best bet is to chew up as much time running the ball down the field, which I fully expect them to do.
Key Additions: Brandon Jackson, RB (Packers)
Key Losses: Eric Wright, CB (Detroit)
4.) Cincinnati Bengals, (3-13)
They really didn’t do anything to get better this off-season. Nate Clements is a decent addition, but he’s a significant downgrade from Jonathan Joseph. Carson Palmer is taking his ball and going home (I don’t like Andy Dalton or Bruce Gradkowski), and Chad Ochocino and Terrell Owens are both gone. They may get Cedric Benson back, but other than that, they have no real focal point on offense, and their defense isn’t much, if any better.
Weakness: Too Many.
Key Additions: Nate Clements, CB (San Francisco)
Key Losses: Chad Ochocinco, WR (Patriots), Carson Palmer, QB (Retirement), Terrell Owens, WR (Free Agency), Cedric Benson, RB (Free Agency)
1. New England
4. Kansas City
5. New York Jets
6. Houston Texans
Wild Card Round
Indianapolis over Houston
Kansas City over New York
New England over Kansas City
Baltimore over Indianapolis
Baltimore over New England
Offensive Player of the Year: Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City
Defensive Player of the Year: Mario Williams, OLB, Houston
Steve Sabato is a contributing writer for Home Field Advantage